According to this article, McCain is saying some things but nothing that I feel strongly one way or the other about. The part of the article that really interested me is that McCain is to discuss his education platform at the end of summer. I’m so excited that there will BE an education platform that I hardly know what to do with myself. One assumes (yes, I know where assumptions can get me) that a platform might have actual information. That would be so wonderful! Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to go with a candidate just based on what he has to say about education but it is going to have a lot of pull. After all, the way our children are taught will have one of the most long-lasting effects on our country. As a teacher, I can tell you that I’m a bit worried about how our country is going to handle the generation that is coming up for graduation.
What issues in education are you hoping McCain addresses at the ‘end of summer’? I’m looking forward to some information about No Child Left Behind, vouchers, standardized tests and national standards.
Prayer in Schools
I bet that got your attention. You are probably either really for it or really against it. Either way here is an interesting little story from across the pond for you. This story talks about children who after a lesson on Islam were asked to pray to Allah. Ummm what? That would soooo never happen here. Additionally, they were punished when the refused. Can you believe that a school actually disciplined children for not wanting to recite something that was showing allegiance to a god they did not worship (never you mind that Allah and the Christian God are the same, from a historical and theological standpoint anyway)?
I bet you’re wondering where I’m going well, I’m almost there 🙂 American schools do this ALL the time. It is called the Pledge of Allegiance. Does the phrase “one nation under God” sound familiar? Hmmm??? Whose God do you think that little bit of wording is referring to? The Christian God. That isn’t mandatory, you say? Oh really?? Every principal I’ve ever worked for told me to make the students say it through example or intimidation or whatnot. Of course, I didn’t do it. As a matter of fact, I’d stand and be respectfully silent every morning as it was said. The students finally got around to asking me why I didn’t say it and I said I had a variety of reasons. The one I usually gave was that I once had a student from another country (in this case Canada) who at the end of one school year asked me what the pledge meant and why we said it every day. I asked her why she’d done it all year long if she didn’t know and she said she’d been afraid not to because she thought it was mandatory. She thought it was mandatory because in practice it is even if it isn’t in law. Peer pressure at its best, people. I explained what it was etc and told her she didn’t have to say it if she didn’t want to (boy would I get chewed out about that if it got back to our superintendent). From that moment on I refused to be a part of the brainwashing/peer pressure culture of our school.
All rambling aside, for those of you who were outraged that a child would be ‘forced’ to pray to Allah please take a moment to reflect on the Pledge of Allegiance. How would you feel if it said: “one nation under Allah” (Allah just means God, folks) Would you be comfortable with your child being pressured to stand and say the pledge if it was rewritten to say, Allah? No? Then why is it ok to pressure students to say the pledge now??
FCAT Reading Camp
If you want some detailed information (or a general idea at least) of what I mean when I say FCAT reading camp you can check out a news article about one in Orange County here.
If you aren’t from Florida you should know that the FCAT is our standardized test that is given to make sure students are performing at a certain standard (well, that’s what it is supposed to be for). If you fail the reading portion of the FCAT in the third grade you fail the third grade as well. (Hmm, well most of the time anyway..there are ways around that little rule so don’t think that means everyone who makes it out of the third grade actually knows what they are supposed to, but I digress). If you fail the test you are allowed to participate in an intensive FCAT reading camp for part of the summer. The curriculum is set by the school district and is different from county to county. I’ve actually taught at one of the FCAT Reading Camps and therefore am not totally blowing steam when I tell you it isn’t worth the money the districts have to pay teachers.
Honestly, I am quite expensive at an hourly rate and I’m by no means (not even close) the most expensive teacher out there. As a matter of fact, I live in a rural area (read we get paid less than those big city teachers) and I didn’t have decades of experience when I taught the program. Even with all of that, I was paid close to $25 per hour for this program. I taught my little heart out and did everything in the program and bought stickers and special pencils to help motivate my kids. I planned for hours and even got a local bookstore involved and helped to set up a little ‘bookstore’ at the school where the children got to pick books to take home and keep. (they loved this by the way). Don’t forget that in addition to paying me the district also paid for the transportation of the children and their lunches and the curriculum etc. Guess how many passed the test? (out of a class of oh say 6). NONE. And would you like to know why?? Was it the fault of the curriculum? Nope, pretty decent. My fault? Not in my opinion but then I suppose I am biased. Whose fault then? No ones.
The reason is hinted at in the article referenced above. The reason these kids didn’t do any better on the second test is that:
- Their attendance wasn’t mandatory. Many of the students went on ‘vacation’. This speaks to a lack of parent involvement and dedication. What is more important your child’s education or going to the beach? The same parents that answered beach are the ones whose children wracked up record absences during the school year. If you aren’t in school you won’t learn.
- Many students were not native speakers of English. Instead of getting year-round intensive instruction many are tossed into the general population. How do you think you’d do if you were plopped into a Russian school in the third grade? Hmmm??? and if that didn’t work out do you think an extra month of ‘intensive’ instruction would fix it?
- Students with learning disabilities. One of my angels (and I actually mean that because this student was such a sweetheart) had an IQ that was around 70 which is classified as “extremely low” This child will never receive a standard diploma and will eventually be on special standards. There were other students with what I believed were undiagnosed learning disabilities but nothing I could do about them (as in I couldn’t diagnose because that is a ‘process’ that has to begin during the school year) except note the problems I saw in my end of lesson notes.
- You then have students that had ‘problems’ throughout the school year. These could be discipline or family related. Again, nothing that is typically resolved by the summer.
So what is my point? My point is I think these camps are pointless. I don’t think they are cost effective. If the child didn’t get it during an ENTIRE school year a few weeks in camp isn’t going to fix it. For students with learning difficulties or who are new the English language another year in the same grade is a good thing. It gives them a whole extra year to become proficient in the skills they are going to need in the next grade. For students who had other “issues”, bad choices should result in consequences. If you choose not to come to school, messed around while at school, or “Christmas-treed’ the test then you shouldn’t be given another opportunity, you should fail. Period. The idea that everyone is intellectually equal is ridiculous and offensive. People are different and that is ok. If it takes you two years to make it through a grade but at the end of those two years you are ready for the next step then that is fine.
What do you think about the extra programs in the summer to help students who haven’t managed in the entire previous year to master standards move on? Do you think it is possible to cram a year’s worth of information into a few weeks? Do you think it is an effective and/or fair way to use taxpayer dollars?